I woke up with a start and saw my alarm singing ‘Rise up’ by Yves Larock. Oh! How I have started hating that song now. I should maybe change the song, but I do not want to, lest I start hating the other song too. I swiped my finger across my iPhone to dismiss the irksome alarm. I had fallen asleep on my desk. As I lifted my messy head off the mahogany study table, I blinked twice and registered my surroundings. My laptop, that lay on the table next to my head had powered off and I was glad that I was accustomed to keeping all my work on cloud, which ensured access to it from anywhere; also extricating the risk of it being lost. The only other thing on the table apart from my laptop and my sleepy head, was a whisky glass. It was almost empty, what looked like last few sips seemed to have dried in the glass leaving behind an ugly stain. Looking at the glass, I recognized the abominable throb in my head as hangover.
I wonder how much I have been drinking. Scanning around, I saw I was in my study as usual- the attic, above the first floor, which I had turned into my study against my husband’s wish to make it a storeroom. I had wanted some place grim that would keep me from any distractions. I needed my entire concentration in finishing this book.
“Damn! It’s Monday. Wasn’t my husband supposed to be leaving to Pune today? How could I forget it?”
I half stumbled out of my chair and felt nausea hitting me. Overcoming the sensation of collapsing again on the chair, I darted towards the door and headed downstairs to our bedroom on the first floor. His flight was at 2pm, I could remember that. I had forgotten to check what time it was now. What if he has already left? He wasn’t there in the bedroom. I rushed down to the ground floor, where the stairs ended in the living room. I was grateful to see my husband talking to our maid handing over instructions. Being a manager of a multinational company had ingrained in Deepak, skills to manage things at home as well.
He saw me, the reason for the commotion, as I sped toward him out of breath.
“There you are, Kriti! I thought I will have to leave without seeing your beautiful face” he said amorously.
He held me by my lean shoulders and gave me a peck on my lips and I shrunk away embarrassed knowing that I must be reeking of stale breath and alcohol. “Why couldn’t you wake me up?” I asked him, petulant.
“I know you must have been up until late, working on your book. I did not want to disturb you. How is the book coming along?” I wondered how he could be so selfless. It was 12.30pm and instead of fussing about getting to the airport here he was concerned about me and asking me about my book.
“I managed to write a bit. I’m excited. I’ve cooked up some brilliant characters. All I need to do is blow some life into them.”
“Well… Good luck. I will see you after a week and read the progress you have made.”
“No ways, knucklehead. You will get to read it only once I have completed it.”
“Well then, suit yourself” he said grumpily. He looked so handsome when he made such faces. I loved him.
I reached out to his cheek and kissed him as he grabbed his suitcase and headed toward the door. “I know you have been preoccupied with your book, but don’t forget to take care of everything while I’m gone. I’m burdening you with all the responsibilities for a week. I’ll come back and relieve you soon” he said and hugged me.
He dumped his suitcase in the trunk of the cab which was waiting at our doorstep and had been arranged by his company. As the cab moved away he blew me a kiss and I blushed and waved him goodbye. I saw Shanti, our maid standing at the door and watching Deepak depart. I sensed something odd in the way she stolidly turned her face to me when she caught me staring at her.
I was hungry and hurried inside to the kitchen which was on the left of the living room. Shanti had prepared Chapati’s and Aloo. I helped myself to a huge serving and hurried with the plate to my room on the first floor.
Before reaching the stairs, I looked at my maid who was judiciously cleaning the windows, seemingly oblivious to me.
“Shanti!” I called out to her.
“You can leave for the day.”
I could see a smile or was it sneer? “Take the week off. Come next week”
“But Madam, what ab…..”
“Leave the house keys on the center table before you go” I cut her mid sentence. She was a trusted person who had been working with us for quite a few years and looking after the smallest of necessities. Of course, we were paying her generously for her efforts. But I needed peace for few days.
I had sent the first three chapters of my novel to my agent a few weeks back. The publisher had found it absorbing and had tossed vague crumbs of interest in getting it published. My agent had been on my ass all week, pushing me to complete it soon, so that I could give her some respite from the series of doomed debuts she had supported.
How does being her special donkey and lugging her to an expected success, make me feel? Pressurized to say the least. But it was also sort of a push I needed, to be serious about my oeuvre. I had almost completed half of my fantasy horror titled ‘The Spawn of the Satan’. I decided to make the most of my husband’s embarkation and dedicate myself to the world of my imagination.
I freshened as soon as I came to my room. I was eager and restless to head back to the attic and resume my story. So I quickly finished off the food from my plate and headed upstairs. The MacBook had died, so I plugged in the charger which was in the drawer of the study table. Also next to the charger was a half filled Black dog bottle lying carelessly on its belly. I decided to leave the whisky alone and powered in my laptop. As it awakened into life, I felt a strange fluttering in my stomach which I realized was excitement.
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Cozily sitting in my swivel chair, I brushed through my sketchy manuscript. Unraveling the world of my fantasy was thrilling to say the least. I had started the book with the story of a normal family living in the suburbs- Husband, wife and their one year old son.
‘The beautiful protagonist Neha, a writer, was wooed and pursued by handsome Rohan, an employee of a financial firm; and within 3 months, their whirlwind romance resulted in her being conceived with his baby. Rohan, who perceptibly was in love with Neha eagerly proposed her to marry him and next month her two friends witnessed her getting married to him in the court.
7 months after their marriage she delivered a baby boy, barely dodging a long-standing quandary. Her baby had been premature and the doctors had declared that only one of the two could survive the delivery. But fate had it other ways. After a nerve-racking surgery and a staggering feat by the doctors, both the mother and son had survived. Neha, unaware of the fate that she had barely managed to escape, had been overjoyed at seeing her son for the first time. He had the most beautiful smiles and she knew that Rohan would have a tough time competing with their son for her attention.
She named her son Punit, which meant ‘Pure’. Because every time she looked at him, he would give her a intensely pure and unadulterated smile.There was however an incomprehensible change after her son was born. Rohan was getting more and more detached from her. Most of the time locking himself up in his study. When at home he would spend time with Punit or stay in the study, alone, as though he was avoiding her. Neha had tried to have a heart to heart with Rohan as she was now on the verge of paranoia, deliberating that he was having an illicit relationship. He had been rude to her in letting her know that he did not have time for useless muses and affairs as he was a busy man. She believed him. Why? Because he was never away from home. He would try as much as he could to come home early from work and spend time with his son or lock himself up in his study.
Suspicious, one day when he was away at work, Neha filched his key to the study and tried checking what exactly was it that he did for hours, sometimes whole night out there in the study. But all she could find were a few papers and documents that she could not make sense of. Something else that caught her attention was a white skull shaped paperweight on the pile of documents lying on the table. Flat at the bottom, it looked like a baby’s skull had been sliced off its hind part. The front side of the skull, with hollow eye and nose sockets, was facing toward the ceiling. It looked so real that she was a bit scared. What startled her the most was when she looked into the eye sockets, they were red and when she put her thumb and index fingers into them she could feel the wet and gooey red liquid stick to her fingers. She was shocked to see the blood. She let out a small inaudible shriek. Bracing herself to her silly imagination she realized it must just be ink or something which the makers had filled in, to give it a real touch. But what puzzled her was that her husband had never seemed to be interested in such gothic junk.
With a half shudder and a look over her shoulder into his study, she left the room and slid the key into the lock. Locking it as before, she turned around to leave when suddenly she felt something grip her ankle. She was overcome with intense fear and did not want to look down. Her imaginations were warning her against something foreboding. Mustering up courage she looked down, she found her son gripping her ankle with his tiny hand. He was smiling at her with the same pure smile. But somehow it seemed to scare her this time. His smile broadened into a grin as he stared at her. How had he gotten here? He was barely a year old. He could not walk, let alone grab her ankle! He must’ve crawled out of his cradle. She diffidently lifted him up and carried him to her room. She put him back in his cradle and settled to cook for dinner.
In the night when her husband got home, he ate the roti and dal that she had prepared in an awkward silence. She had felt guilty, like a thief, for she was somehow convinced that he had known she was in his study earlier, though he never mentioned it. After a short table-talk, she breastfed Punit and put him to sleep in the cradle next to her bed before herself retiring to sleep. In the middle of the night she woke up and found her husband missing. She guessed he must have dozed off in his study and got up to check on her son. She was alarmed to see the cradle empty. She could feel her entire body tense. She crawled out of her room towards Rohan’s study. It was closed, but she could hear muffled voices from the room. What left her panic stricken was the fact that the gabble was not by her husbands’. In fact they did not sound human. She was not aware what was going on in the room but she felt sure that she would find her son inside.
Her fingers were trembling as she managed to grip the door knob. The muffled inhuman chattering and laughter that she could hear from the room suddenly turned dead silent. After what seemed like an eternity she mustered up the strength to turn the knob and slowly opened the door. All of a sudden a crow flew across her face out of nowhere and she covered her face with her hands. The bird flew away and when she opened her eyes, she gave a terrified bloodcurdling shriek and then everything went blur.’
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